Flannery O'Connor: A Life

Flannery O'Connor: A Life

by Jean W. Cash
     
 

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Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) ranks among the foremost writers of fiction in American literature. Her short stories, in particular, are considered models of the form. Born in Savannah, O’Connor spent most of her life in Georgia and infused her work with southern characters, themes, and landscapes. A devout Catholic, she addressed the mystery of

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Overview

Flannery O’Connor (1925–1964) ranks among the foremost writers of fiction in American literature. Her short stories, in particular, are considered models of the form. Born in Savannah, O’Connor spent most of her life in Georgia and infused her work with southern characters, themes, and landscapes. A devout Catholic, she addressed the mystery of God’s grace in everyday life, often amid the grotesque, the shocking, and the violent. In this first full-length biography of the writer, Jean W. Cash draws upon extensive interviews with O’Connor’s friends, relatives, teachers, and colleagues as well as on the writer’s voluminous correspondence to provide a sensitive, balanced portrait of a fascinating woman.

As Cash demonstrates, O’Connor’s sheltered childhood, extraordinary intellect, spiritual certainty, and unique personality—including a wry sense of humor—combined not only to make her something of an outsider but also to foster her literary genius. As a child, her favorite activities were reading, writing stories, and drawing. Perhaps more unusual was her childhood feat of teaching a rooster to walk backwards. Her passion for exotic fowl later found expression in the peacock symbolism in her fiction.

The family moved to Milledgeville, Georgia, in 1938, and there O’Connor attended high school and college. She left the South in 1945 and entered the graduate writing program at the University of Iowa, where she completed several chapters of her first novel, Wise Blood. She went on to live at the Yaddo writers’ colony in Saratoga Springs, New York, and she might have spent her most creative years in the North if illness had not interfered. However, lupus—the same disease that had killed her father—forced her to return to Milledgeville, where she lived and wrote for the remaining fourteen years of her life under the protective care of her mother.

The latter chapters of Cash’s biography address O’Connor’s adjustment to her debilitating illness and to a more circumscribed existence. As Cash explains, she learned to accommodate her mother’s insular outlook, and in many ways her fiction profited artistically during this period. Her friendships and active correspondence added to the variety and vitality of her life. She also traveled widely on the lecture circuit and reviewed books for a local Catholic publication. Even in her illness and relative isolation in Milledgeville, O’Connor continued to live a richly rewarding and creative life.

The Author: Jean W. Cash is professor of English at James Madison University.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Cash's scrupulously detailed biography, the result of a decade of research, offers readers many particulars about O'Connor's (1925-1964) life, but ultimately falls short on insight into one of America's finest and most enigmatic writers. Throughout her life, O'Connor (n e Mary Flannery O'Connor) wrestled with both faith and sexuality, yet Cash offers little of her own analysis to illuminate the writer's conflicts; she focuses, instead, on facts: the titles of O'Connor's college classes, the specifics of her travel itineraries. With such a methodical chronicling of the author's years from her childhood in Savannah, Ga., and her young adulthood nearby; her years at the University of Iowa and her stints in New York and Connecticut; and from her return to Milledgeville, Ga., to her untimely death at age 39 this volume sometimes feels like an extended encyclopedia entry. O'Connor emerges as intensely private, eccentric and self-contained, devoted to Catholicism and to her art, and dominated by her mother. Her most intense friendships were with women who were attracted to her both intellectually and also sexually; O'Connor's carnal desires appear to have been subsumed by her fierce imagination. When O'Connor experienced her first bout of lupus in 1950, her life was further circumscribed. In 1964 O'Connor died of kidney failure, her early death compounding the mystery of her character. And that is perhaps precisely how O'Connor, an advocate of New Criticism (which held that a writer's life had no bearing on his or her work) would have wished it. Cash's book is not the definitive account that O'Connor devotees have been waiting for, but despite its faults, it's a step in the right direction. Photos. (Sept.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Mary Flannery O'Connor (1925-64) was a Southern writer and a Roman Catholic whose shrewdness, biting humor, and seeming lack of interest in cultural mores all contributed greatly to her unique literary voice. She spent most of her adult life in Milledgeville, GA, forced to live on a farm with her mother owing to lupus, the disease that eventually caused her early death. There she continued to write, receive guests, lecture (her main source of income), and correspond with a number of literary and personal friends. O'Connor's daily life may have seemed prosaic, but as revealed by her writings and this fine new biography her interests, irony, and cold eye were hardly conventional. Cash (English, James Madison Univ.) spent ten years researching this work, and it shows; while this is not a critical study, it is the first book to chronicle O'Connor's life in such painstaking detail. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Robert L. Kelly, Fort Wayne Community Schs., IN Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781572333055
Publisher:
University of Tennessee Press
Publication date:
02/28/2004
Edition description:
New Edition
Pages:
392
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

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